How to Use SMEs to Get Users Cheering!

Have you ever implemented an IT project only to find out that the users were not ready for it?  In fact, they forgot about it?  Or worse, they were never informed it was coming? I have found an easy way to ensure this does not happen.  Engage the SMEs and as many users as you can throughout the entire project.

Here are some pointers for every phase of the SDLC:

The subject matter experts may not be the actual user of your product.  That’s right, the subject matter experts may actually be former users of the system who have risen to management and don’t use the system in the same way a clerk would.  The SME has been empowered to make decisions on behalf of the actual user group but may not be in touch with the day-to-day data entry tasks a clerk faces.  To temper this, ask the SMEs to bring a few of their staff from clerical, mid-level users, and management when you present your system design.  This is an important time to get feedback because real development has not yet begun.

Demonstrate how your system design meets their business process and requirements.  I like to do this with a Power Point that walks them through their business process and correlates design elements that address each step in the process.  This exercise forces you to do your due diligence in customizing the product for the business process.

Demonstrate during the early stage of development.  Don’t be afraid to show the user the product in its early stages, using prototypes with sample data and later with a semi-functioning system.  Opening up your design to critique in this phase will make it less likely that it will be rejected once it hits production.  Remind them how your design meets the business process and be open to their feedback.

Demonstrate your product in small chunks.  If your project is large and has a long development period, break up the project into smaller functional areas and demonstrate each part of the product as often as you can get them to meet with you.  This will keep them engaged and invested it your project.

Prepare the SMEs and selected users for UAT.  During the testing phase, meet with the SMEs and their selected users to go over the final look and feel, the business process and how your product meets the requirements.  Engage them to be ready for the upcoming User Acceptance Test phase.  Emphasize the importance of their participation in UAT and help them to create a plan for testing their product.

UAT is bonding time.  The most important time to stay engaged with SMEs and any users you can reach is during UAT.  Encourage project team members to recruit as many people as possible to participate in UAT.  Even if the users don’t have a test plan, they will not only help find bugs but they will be exposed to the new product and will talk about the product with their colleagues which will create buzz and energy for your product.

A huge part of project management for IT projects is buy-in.  Engaging the SMEs and other users can help ease the pain of change and create an air of excitement about the product.  Talk, talk, talk to everyone who will listen about your project and how it will help the users when implemented. Show your confidence in the product you are creating for them by telling them they will be running from the parking lot to use the new product!  Be excited! Show your excitement!

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One thought on “How to Use SMEs to Get Users Cheering!

  1. Thanks – condenses many of the messages of agile product ownership and Eric Ries’ Lean Start-up into a very few words.
    I guess the URL “hacks for IT pros” illustrates for us that what is obvious in one sphere is invisible in others. PM in general has been miss-cast as about schedules when its about change. Change is fundamentally an exercise in sociology. Get that right and the Cost-Time-Performance issues melt away.

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